A study by Sathyamangalam-based NGO, Service Unit for Development Activities in Rural (SUDAR), revealed that poverty, lack of transportation to reach schools, noncoverage of students above class VIII under the mid-day meal scheme and lack of interest among the parents to educate their children were the key reasons for dropouts of tribal children in Erode district.
The study was carried out among 51 dropout tribal children at Gundri in Kadambur Hills, Thamaraikarai, Kongadai, Bargur, and Oosimalai in Bargur Hills, and at Vilankombai tribal settlement, located inside the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve. Children were in the age group of 5 to 10 years – 16.7%, 10 to 13 years – 45.8%, and 15 to 17 years – 37.5%. Of the total 51 children, 44 children’s families do not have any agricultural land and depend on daily wages for their livelihood.
The survey revealed that 41 children stopped going to school as there is no transportation facility while the rest said that their parents lack income. Children of Gundri, Kongadai, Oosimalai, and Vilankombai said reaching the school is very difficult for them as they have to traverse forest areas and also spend on private trucks. Hence, they frequently took leave from school before they became a dropout, the study revealed. Their travel distance to school – 23 children need to travel over 10 km, 10 children – 5 km, eight children – 3 km and 10 children – over one km.
The study found that 50 children are working as daily wagers – 35 children in sugarcane fields, eight in tea estates, six children in spinning mills and bakeries while one child is working at a brick kiln unit. While 42 children expressed interest in resuming their studies if supported, nine children said they are not interested in studies anymore. As many as 37 children seek transport facilities, two children want bicycles and 29 children want financial assistance like stipend or scholarships to study.
S.C. Natraj, Director of SUDAR, who led the study, said that family poverty has pushed most of the children to turn into wagers who accompany their parents in sugarcane fields and tea estates at Valparai. Since most of the children have to pass through dense forest areas, they fear for movement of wild animals. Hence, transport facilities should be arranged, he added. Likewise, dropouts are high after Class 8 as school uniforms and lunch are not provided to them in schools. Also, awareness should be created among the illiterate parents and ensure that they send their wards to schools regularly without fail, he added.
The study recommends, monthly incentives for children who return to schools and uniforms and coverage under the mid-day meal scheme up to Class 12.